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Dissecting Rigid Substrates

Segment, Classify, and Repeat

By Melissa Donovan

A variety of rigid substrates are available for direct digital printing. Most are engineered for specific applications. Manufacturers classify this media in several ways.


Foamboard, paper based, plastic, and aluminum are major segments. These categories breakdown into further classification, such as intended environment—interior or exterior, term of use—short or long, and cost. Choosing the correct media is critical to effectively pricing a job.


Thanks to flatbed enhancements, rigid substrates are seeing a surge in popularity. Analyst firm InfoTrends reports that directly printed rigid media is slated to grow from over 70 million square feet in 2013 to over 140 million square feet in 2017. While Tim Greene, director, wide format, InfoTrends, admits that the growth isn’t necessarily based on new products or markets, the capability of the media to be directly printed versus output on paper or film and then mounted to rigid board is a factor.


Nevertheless, the increase in usage allows media manufacturers to focus on expanding portfolios. Many now offer innovative solutions that combine original substrates with a twist. For example, while the main component is foamboard, the top layer may be made up of chalkboard, cork board, dry erase board, canvas, or metallic-based media.


Distinguish and Define

Vendors categorize product lines by intended use or material makeup—defining the primary material as the product core or surface. Grades of durability range from foamboard, paper, and plastic to aluminum. In each category, a difference in durability between products is also evident.



A majority of 3A Composites USA’s products are in the foamboard space. Fome-Cor is a paper-faced foamboard consisting of extruded polystyrene foam. Signs and graphic displays made of Fome-Cor are designed for short-term interior display. 3A’s wood-veneer-faced foam board is Gatorfoam, considered more heavy duty than Fome-Cor, with extruded polystyrene foam bonded between wood-veneer instead of paper. Gatorfoam is for medium-term indoor displays, however 3A also manufacturers Gatorfoam Exterior for outdoors.


EnCore Products categorizes its foamboard substrates based on the product core and then the surface material. For example, its MightyCore and MightyBull Foam Boards fall into the company’s Rigid Foam Board category as they are constructed on dense, polystyrene foam.


Most foamboard, according to Candace Martin, junior product manager, EnCore, features a paper surface, so it is recommended for short-term, interior use. However, EnCore’s MightyBull features a polystyrene surface, so it can be used for short-term exterior use.


All of The Gilman Brothers Company’s products are used for interior applications. Standard paper faced, standard adhesive coated, and specialty foamboards are considered short-term products. Whereas, heavy-duty paper-faced, conservation, and plastic foamboards are used long term.


Gilman Brothers breaks out its foamboards based on type of core, surface material, coatings, and application. This includes paper-faced, adhesive-coated, conservation, and plastic foamboards.


Paper- and Fiber-Based

3A offers its FiberMate rigid print media, which is comprised of wood fiber manufactured into a high-density fiberboard. It is ideal for medium-term interior point of purchase displays.


Hexacomb Corporation offers paper-based graphic display board, Falconboard, which is categorized by the size/weight of the core for temporary, semi-permanent, and permanent solutions. “We think of our product line in the way that customers’ use the product for their intended application,” explains Timothy Bolton, director – business development, Hexacomb.


Hexacomb’s Falconboard is suited for indoor environments. Falconboard Print is for semi-permanent temporary displays, Falconboard Mount for semi-permanent, and Falconboard Build for permanent.


Katz Americas’ Katz Display Board is a 100 percent recyclable and compostable post use. It is made from all natural materials such as spruce wood from managed forestry and 30 percent pre-consumer recycled material.


Andrew Londergan, marketing director, Lamitech, notices a lot of paper/fiber-based products used in environmentally conscious customer spaces. In addition, this substrate is commonly found in retail environments with a recycling program.



There are grades of plastics used in rigid substrates, this includes but is not limited to PVC, polycarbonate, and acrylic.


3A’s Sintra product is a PVC material. It is used in medium-term signs and displays for both interior and exterior applications.


According to Lanie Dattilo, director of marketing, Masterpiece Graphix, “PVC is a general use substrate because it is durable and does great in outdoor environments.”


Palram Americas’ separates its rigid substrates into see-through and opaque. Palsun polycarbonate, Palclear water clear PVC, and Palglas acrylic are considered see through. The opaque product line includes Palopaque type one PVC and Palight foamed PVC.


“Historically, foam PVC is interior or short-term exterior signage,” explains Tim Cronrath, product manager, Palram. The company recently introduced Palight Outdoor, however, which is a lightweight yet durable foamed PVC designed for signage and outdoor display applications.



Dibond, by 3A, is comprised of two sheets of aluminum with a solid polyethylene core. It is used in both interior and exterior long-term signs and displays.


Laminators Inc.’s aluminum composite products are categorized by production composition, which is then defined by the core material. Its three major categories are corrugated plastic core panels, solid core panels, and plywood core panels.


“All of our sign panel products are recommended for medium to long-term exterior or interior use,” explains Melissa Grimes, marketing manager, Laminators.


Graphic-al by Mitsubishi Plastics Composites America, Inc. offers aluminum composite materials (ACM) rigid substrates. There are three main boards, DP, LT, and HP. DP is half the weight of other ACM boards, with a thinner aluminum surface and white foamed polyethylene core. LT offers a standard matte finish. HP provides a high-gloss surface.


Cost Per Square Foot

The durability of a rigid board factors into price. For example, Coroplast sells for less than $0.50 per square foot. According to John McCurdy, marketing director, Coroplast, the polypropylene product is mostly used in short-term promotions.


At Gilman Brothers, prices range from $0.32 per square foot to $1.65 per square foot for its economy grade foamboards to premium grade products.


Paperboard products from Lamitech vary, with its virgin solid core paperboard at around $0.25 per square feet and under and its recycled solid core paperboard at around $0.15 square feet and under.


Enhancements Spur Growth

With direct print a possibility, vendors take original product lines and update with innovative additions.


3A offers Fome-Cor Canvas Board, a lightweight rigid substrate of polystyrene foam sandwiched between an embossed canvas-like clay-coated paper facer and a standard Bright White facer.


Coroplast introduced Stinger Rigid Honeycomb Board. Made from 100 percent recyclable polypropylene, it contains UV inhibitors that allow it to be used for outdoor signage and displays. It is highly moisture resistant for extra durability compared to paper honeycomb products.


EnCore’s Fine Art Boards product line includes foamboards with unique surfaces such as chalkboard and cork. “White ink capabilities allow for EnCore Chalk Foam Board to become personalized by adding a border, branding, or personal design. Cork Foam Board can be transformed into a designer corkboard by printing a pattern, border, or initials to its surfaces with or without white ink,” shares Martin.


Gilman Brothers recently announced several new products for direct to print. Foamalux PVC foamboards offer single- or double-sided printing. Ryno Board HD is a heavy-duty, paper-faced foamboard with a new high-compressive center for improved dent and warp resistance.


Hexacomb offers Falconboard Print All White display board, which was created to address the natural brown edge objections covered in certain applications. It features a bleached white core and liner to provide high-end signage with a clean white edge.


Lamitech recently began manufacturing more semi-rigid products in rolls and larger sheets. Its paperboard products are seeing an uptick in interest as print buyers seem to be coming back to basics, according to Londergan. He cites printability, convertibility, recyclability, and affordability as main factors in the increase of interest.


Hishimetal by Mitsubishi Plastics is new to North America this year. The portfolio includes Hishimetal EX-DR and PO.


In December 2013, Masterpiece Graphix debuted its silver and gold rigid PVC vinyl, part of the Masterpiece Metallix line. Metallix is a culmination of the top metallic and holographic substrates on the market. In addition to rigid substrates, it includes papers, polyesters, and foils.


Palram’s Palight Wood grain is ideal for direct to print. According to Cronrath, a deep texture allows inks to grab onto the surface, the bright white color makes ink pop, and the product offers performance, durability, and uniformity.


Hit the Boards

Rigid substrates are available for short or long term, indoors or outdoors. Depending on desired durability, a solution is available. Media manufacturers are committed to the space, acknowledging the influence of flatbeds on their products. 


Click here to view the Rigid Substrates for Direct Digital Print Target Chart - an all-inclusive information resource!


Feb2014, Digital Output

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